I own a lot of books. So many, in fact, that my bookshelf was struggling to accommodate the weight of them all. Once I had removed all of my books from the shelves and onto the floor, the bookcase was leaning at an angle from the sheer quantity of books that I had piled onto it over the years, and the backboard was curving from my bad habit of overstacking. I know that I am the only person to blame for this: birthday gifts have often been books that I have asked for, or book vouchers that have always provided lots of enjoyment choosing which book to buy. I also chose to study an Arts degree, and with that comes an awful lot of reading.
I got much too distracted, finding old books that I loved and expanding my exceedingly long ‘to-reread’ pile
I recently decided that clearing out my childhood bedroom, passing on old teddy bears and recycling old ‘artwork’ was not that difficult for me. But once I’d progressed to my bookshelf, I found it a lot harder to be ruthless and create the much-needed space for the books I had acquired at university this year. I got much too distracted, finding old books that I loved and expanding my exceedingly long ‘to-reread’ pile. Why is it that I found it so difficult to get rid of books? Was it the sentimental attachment to these titles, the possibility of a reread, or the option of lending a book to a friend who would hopefully discover a new favourite? For me, I think it was a combination of all of these things.
Old books have the charm of familiarity. They can remind us of our own experiences, while rereading them helps us see how our tastes and opinions have changed over time, alongside how past books shape who we are today. During my clear-out, I rediscovered my copy of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, a beautiful story about a 10-year-old child with Treacher Collins Syndrome and his experience with starting school for the first time. Reading it again highlighted how much the book has shaped my own capacity for empathy later in life, helping me to understand the lives of those living with disability and the challenges faced by their loved ones.
Books change over time: while Wonder was initially just a heartwarming story about friendship and growing up, it’s now become a story that I can connect new experiences to
As a child, Wonder also gave me a mental and behavioural framework when members of my own family were diagnosed with lifelong conditions, but this was something that I only discovered through my reread. Picking up Wonder again enabled me to reflect on my own experiences in a new light, and while this book is like an old friend with a familiar plot, I still managed to get something new out of it when I reread it. The thought of getting rid of this book gives me shivers – the story gives me a small peek into the experience of being 10 again, through a positive and uplifting narrative. For me, books change over time: while Wonder was initially just a heartwarming story about friendship and growing up, it’s now become a story that I can connect new experiences to. Removing this from my shelf would be extremely difficult.
The investment of time and money into funding my reading habits makes it even more difficult to let go of books in my collection. I could never give away my hardback copies of Winnie the Pooh, or my clothbound classic edition of Pride and Prejudice! The stories behind receiving these books makes them priceless to me. Not only are they classic books that I return to again and again, but just seeing these books on my shelf reminds me of old friends and loved ones who have gifted me access to these worlds and stories. Sharing stories with others is one of my favourite parts about reading, and I love that people in my life can gift me their favourite books, and then I can lend them to others.
I actually did not have enough space for all my books on my bookshelf, even once I had boxed a considerable amount to donate and ended up storing some in boxes elsewhere in my bedroom. I may be slightly overrun with books, but my bookshelf now acts as one very aesthetic and nostalgic feature wall. And while I may not be living a bookish minimalist life, Marie Kondo would hopefully be proud that my Wonder-filled bookshelf, at least for me, sparks joy.